Merch by Amazon Success: Interview with Matt Sheeran
This post is also available in: German
In today’s interview I got to sit down with Matt Sheeran and ask him some questions about his business. Matt has been in the merch game for a lot shorter time period than a lot of people, but has been making a name for himself. You may have seen him with RJ Martinez on YouTube, his own channel, Merch Elephant, or in any number of the Facebook groups.
What struck me about Matt is that he was doing things a little bit differently than the majority of people in the MBA program. He was taking the time to learn paid traffic to add to his toolbox of skills. He was doing a lot of stuff in house (I hear his wife is a graphic artist), but yet is still focused on outsourcing to free up his time and rapidly expand his business. It will be interesting to see where he is in a years time, but I reached out and asked a few questions on how he got started and his plans moving forward.
He also used Merch Informer to find a niche and clear 12k in royalties for his 3rd month on MBA!
Let’s jump into it!
Tell us a little about who you are and a general ballpark of how much per month you are doing with Print on Demand?
Hey, I’m Matt Sheeran. My wife Erin and I work together on Merch By Amazon, she’s the main designer, and I do listings and optimization as well as paid traffic. I have a YouTube Channel called Merch Elephant that I do content primarily aimed at new sellers on the platform, and I co-host a weekly chat show with RJ Martinez called Real Talk that focuses on strategies for more advanced merch sellers.
Currently we’re doing around 3-4k per month. March is on pace to be our best month since the eclipse, as just passed 3k in royalties and it’s not even the middle of the month.
How long have you been a member of the Merch by Amazon Platform?
We applied in February of 2017, and were accepted in April. However we got married April 8th of last year, so we didn’t actually upload a shirt until the end of May. Uploaded a 4th of July shirt and it sold the next day and we were hooked.
How did you first find out about the platform and what were your initial thoughts?
We first heard about it on Reezy Resells call-in show. We were trying to make extra money prior to the wedding, and were looking for any way we could to scrape together some dollars. We did FBA Books for about 2 months. My wife hated every second of it, but it directly lead us to here.
Reezy mentioned go sign up for Merch so I did, even though I had no clue what it was. A couple weeks later he had RJ call into the show and that’s how we connected with him.
I had no idea what to think at first, we really didn’t know what it was. We waited almost 2 months to upload our 1st shirt. But I had been following RJ on Instagram and Snapchat and he made like $1200 the 1st month he was really working on the platform. I then found Chris Green’s interview with Merch Minds, and he was the one that got me really excited for Merch. I didn’t really understand what Merch was, until I listened to it. After that I came home and told my wife we had to get started.
What was your “AHA!” moment when you realized the potential from selling Merch online?
The eclipse was where I went, this is a nice side hustle, to holy **** this is incredible. Our 3rd month on the platform we make 12.4k. We were at tier 500, and we sold 2500 shirts in a month.
In one swoop 3 months after our wedding we paid off all our debt. We actually are still selling at least 1 eclipse design a week almost 6 months later.
Did you have to wait for approval? Any tips for those submitting applications today?
We had to wait around 2 months right now. However my wife’s account took forever to get approved. She had an application in for over 8 months before getting the approval. I think the approval process is kind of random right now. I’ve heard of people getting approved in 2 weeks that just filled out the basic info, and people like my wife who filled out everything including a link to her Etsy store with her own personal artwork on it getting turned down.
What tier are you at and how many designs do you currently have live?
Tier 4k with 2200 live. We will be pushing hard this week to get tiered up to 6k though after reading your article about your girlfriend’s account.
Do you outsource your design work or do you do it yourself?
80% is done in house from my wife. We are adding to our team though in an effort to scale. I hired a designer last week, and am looking to add 2 more before the end of this month. We also hired an uploader that I am in the process of training.
I own my own business, and that pays our bills, so I’m looking for any way I can to reduce the amount of grunt work that I am doing and spend more time focused on more important issues like traffic.
If outsourced: Where, Price, Any Tips on the process?
Onlinejobs.ph although that site seems to have dried up in the quality of talent that we used to get. I think trying to find sources of talent that are different from the majority is a good idea. I had to go through about 70 candidates before I found the designer that we hired. Also I’ve noticed that quite a few of them have started to raise their prices. We used to be able to find designers that were decent for around $2 per design. That price has come up.
My biggest tip, would be to never trust anyone by their portfolio. Always test and see what they are actually capable of. Also use reverse image lookup with Tineye.com, or google images and make sure they haven’t taken artwork they do not have the rights to.
I was ready to hire a designer last week for typography, his portfolio was fire, he seemed to know what he was talking about and understood commercial licensing and the importance of not using artwork that we did not have the rights to, but the test images he submitted looked nothing like the portfolio he was claiming.
Do you do any outside marketing or are you strictly focused on the organic traffic from on page optimization?
We use AMS, it’s something that I dug real deep into last year and I think I have a very strong understanding of the platform.
Unfortunately it’s recently gotten very expensive in some niches, because I think some people don’t quite understand how to use the product and think that just throwing more money and higher bids at an adset will result in more sales (It generally won’t. Start small and scale)
Going forward I will be tightening up the ad spend quite a bit. I did some experimenting with AMS that cost me a decent sum of money. With the weird way the year has started on the platform, I feel like we were probably sending traffic to listings that couldn’t convert because unbeknownst to us they had shirt sizes/colors out of stock, or a Dog showing. Combine that with a number of new sellers that aren’t particularly savvy at paid traffic, and I think I can get a better ROI in other spots.
I just recently began building out some Pinterest boards. It’s way too early (2nd week) to get any kind of noticeable traffic yet. I’ve considered trying some Facebook, but the horror stories I’ve heard about lots of money sunk and very low return have me a little gun shy.
Have you done any Facebook advertising?
No FB ads, or organic strategies such as building out pages. Not enough time. Hopefully this year I can experiment, as I move some of the grunt work off my plate.
When it comes to your experience what is the most important factor in getting your shirt ranked in Amazon?
A great design + good keywords + proper listing optimization.
All of these matter.
If you have a terrible design it will probably never sell.
If you have a good design, but the wrong keywords, the wrong audience will be shown the shirt, and a byproduct of that is Amazon will quickly move your design down the page.
If you have a good design, plus good keywords but put them in the wrong spots, Amazon doesn’t know how to properly figure out what market you are trying sell your shirt to. Not optimizing the most important search factors (Hint: Keyword Optimize your Title) will result in your shirt not getting shown very high to begin with.
There is a lot more competition on the platform. I think you can still sell very basic shirts, and do fine with that strategy, but if you want to have outsized results and really make money I think you need to approach selling on Merch a little differently.
Do you Use Any Tools For Your Research Process? If so, what aspects do you like best?
We use Merch Informer (Side note I’m pretty excited to test out the trend feature you just released) for an overview on what is selling on Amazon. It’s nice to be able to have all the information in one spot. It’s also great for tracking how well your shirt is doing over time (which is important when you’re testing different strategies and trying to determine correlation or causation)
I also use Jungle Scout and DS QuickView to help pull some information directly from Amazon, because I can quickly export it to .CSV. once I’ve identified a profitable niche that we want to target.
When it comes to your keywords, how are you approaching them?
Very Carefully. I think I probably spend more time on KW research than most sellers. I will routinely go back into older listings and tune up keywords with data that we receive from our AMS ads. I also routinely mine other listings that are selling well on Amazon in the niches we are in, to see if we missed any relevant keywords. We prefer to go very deep in niches, typically trying to get up 50-100 designs any time we find one that we like. So it pays off to spend extra time on the keywords, because I can use the same data over and over.
What about your pricing? Do you experience with your prices or are you listing all your designs at the industry standard of $19.99?
A lot of sellers will probably hate this answer, but we hardly ever price at 19.99. One of the first bits of advice I took to heart was your pricing strategy that you talked about on the Merch Informer blog. We use a very similar one. If our shirt is the best in the niche, and is selling really well, and has reviews. We will price above 19.99.
I think many sellers get too attached to their artwork and we’ve bought a ton of our t-shirts. I think I’ve probably got 20 or so in different colors and sizes. They’re fine as middle of the road shirts, but they’re not high end by any means.
We’re a random seller on Amazon to a customer. We do not have any form of brand built around our product and we don’t run outside traffic to listings, so we’re trying to take advantage of whatever on-page signals we can to sell our shirts. If my design is better than the other sellers in our niche, plus slightly less expensive, I think it results in more sales. And I’ve tested this exhaustively for what it’s worth. We’ve tried starting at higher prices and leaving them there. This method works better for us.
And for those arguing that it will result in a race to the bottom:
IF we were selling comparable products it might. BUT we’re not. Our designs are way better than my competitions.
Have you expanded into other platforms or are you taking advantage of any of the integrations to list on Amazon (Shopify/Printful/Printaura/Teespring)?
Yes, I’m in the process of expanding onto Spreadshirt, Teespring, Redbubble, and CafePress. We also sell on Etsy via Printful. We haven’t tried to sell on Amazon, via the integration, but I think it’s part of our future.
How do you ensure your designs remain safe from any possible infringement?
Religious checking of TMHunt/USPTO/and Google. We do not design for niches that we don’t have a deep understanding of. Whether it is knowledge we have already, or spending some time to try to understand our target audience. Also we constantly ask ourselves the question, “Would this sell without this?”
Like most sellers, we did a fair amount of parody, especially political parody when we started on the platform. We’ve eliminated nearly all of it from our catalog. It’s just not worth the potential danger of risking our account. There are endless ideas and niches to sell T-Shirts in without having to tread in those waters.
If there is one thing to avoid when learning the MBA business, what would you say that is?
The number one piece of advice I have for new sellers, is to read through all of the Amazon resources before you upload your 1st shirt. They have a very detailed content policy, and their FAQ page has a ton of valuable information.
I understand it, as a new seller you want to get started as soon as possible so you can tier up and make money. But a little bit of preventative research prior to starting can save you tons of headaches.
Understand the content policy and take it to heart. This will help you to weed out designs that other less-savvy Merch sellers might have been able to get onto the platform, but will eventually result in suspensions and terminations. The opportunity with a Merch account is unbelievable: you should approach every upload with the thought in the back of your head that it’s damn near priceless, and do not create anything that might put your account at risk.
What is the end goal for your MBA business?
Increased Freedom. We’ve talked for the last couple years about picking up and traveling, but we wanted a steady cash flow business that wasn’t dependant on location. Merch is that for us in the future.
Any plans for all the money you have made from Merch?
Re-invest it into the business and other money making opportunities. I’m a big believer in leverage. The money we are making now, is going largely to help grow our business.
If there is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is starting to use Merch by Amazon for the first time and wants to get ahead, what would it be?
Find other sellers at or around your same level that are passionate about Merch and network. A large part of our success is because we started around the same time as RJ and some other friends of ours and we all worked together to figure out things. Having someone who is just as dedicated as you are, to figuring out the puzzle that is Merch, is a huge help. It allows you to test things at scale much earlier, helps cover up gaps in your knowledge, and it’s nice to have a support system when things are slow or not working.